Being ignorant and inexperienced is not the problem. We all start out this way — both as children and as adults beginning new seasons (like getting married, having our first child, or starting a new career). The problem is being unwilling to yield, hard to be entreated, and not open to reason. It’s a stagnating, suicidal state of mind, like a dry garden shielding itself from the rain. None of us is self-sufficient. By God’s design, we need other people’s input in order to grow into wise, fruitful people.
In his essay “The Trouble with ‘X,’” C.S. Lewis describes that person who makes our lives difficult. Who is it that gives you regular grief? Maybe it’s a spouse or a coworker or a fellow church member. Sometimes a friend, seeing us look “glum,” will probe us until we reluctantly open up.
On such occasions the . . . friend usually says, “But why don’t you tell them? Why don’t you go to [them] . . . and have it all out? People are usually reasonable. All you’ve got to do is to make them see things in the right light. Explain it to them in a reasonable, quiet, friendly way.” And we, whatever we say outwardly, think sadly to ourselves, “He doesn’t know ‘X.’” We do. We know how utterly hopeless it is to make “X” see reason. Either we’ve tried it over and over again — tried it till we are sick of trying it — or else we’ve never tried it because we saw from the beginning how useless it would be. (God in the Dock, 161–62)
But in contrast to those like “X,” whom Jane Austen describes as “beyond the reach of reason” (Pride and Prejudice, 57), God calls us to be “open to reason” (James 3:17). Are you open to reason? As we consider this description, seeking to be transformed into reasonable people ourselves, we can keep from becoming someone else’s “X.”
The object described as “open to reason” in James 3:17 is not people, but wisdom. Wisdom is the issue here in the surrounding context (James 3:13–18). And not just any wisdom, but “the wisdom that comes down from above” (vv. 15, 17). In typical James fashion, it’s a wisdom that shows itself by its works, not simply by its claims (v. 13).
Notice how James speaks not of the “brilliance” but of “the meekness of [this] wisdom” (v. 13). This kind of wisdom is moral, not merely intellectual. It’s about how you learn, not simply what you know. It affects how you get along with others, not just what you can teach them. To be without this wisdom is not simply to be ignorant, but to be “earthly, unspiritual, [and] demonic” (v. 15). Its absence (and counterfeit) is marked by “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (vv. 14, 16).
If you can spot fool’s wisdom by its rivalry, drama, and disorder, then how do you know when you’re looking at the real thing? In answer, James gives us a sevenfold description of “the wisdom from above” (v. 17):
- open to reason
- full of mercy and good fruits
This is the context for our phrase. Other translations render it “easy to be entreated” (KJV) or “willing to yield” (NKJV). Hopefully a mental picture is beginning to emerge.
Life with Closed Ears
As soon as you begin to grasp what “open to reason” means, you also begin to see why it matters. It matters because the alternative is a kind of closed-minded stubbornness that not only makes us dumber but also destroys our relationships.
The trouble with “X” is that you can’t teach him anything. Like Nabal, “he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him” (1 Samuel 25:17). He often has to be bailed out by others around him (like his wife, Abigail), though he often won’t even realize it, and he certainly won’t thank you for it.